Left Behind and the dark side of rapture theology

Shiao Chong

Shiao Chong
October 1, 2014

I wonder if rapture theology’s popularity, evidenced by the Left Behind franchise, is partly due to how it appeals to our desire for vindication.

October 1, 2014

I'll say upfront I haven't read the Left Behind series, nor do I have any desire to read them, and I probably won't see this new movie.

It seems to me, though, that 'Left Behind' is just another in a long line of literature that seeks to "fill in the gaps" of our faith and what we know of our spirituality. John Milton did it with 'Paradise Lost,' C.S. Lewis did it with 'Screwtape Letters,' Martin Scorcese did it with 'Last Temptation of Christ,' etc.

I guess my only concern is how well it's done. Are these books well-written? Is this new movie well-written and acted? Or are they just-- pardon the expression-- "vengeance porn" for Christians? Milton's work and Lewis' work are considered good literature, regardless of the readers' faith. I would hate for these books and movies to be things that drive people farther from the gospel message, or things that prompt people to point and laugh at the silly Christians.

Chris Hunt
October 1, 2014

I read the entire Left Behind series. From the first pages I struggled with some of the storytelling techniques, laughable villains, and annoying plot devices (for example, the good guys seemed to always be able to listen in on the bad guys' councils of war). But, I appreciated the exhaustive interpretation of "rapture theology" and end-times prophecy that the novels encased. If you don't get rapture theology, you will by the time you complete reading that series. While some of the story elements are silly, the books are page-turners. I also admit, my heart skipped a beat when Jesus finally appears in the clouds in the Glorious Appearing. At its very core, however, the series points to just one hope, believing in Jesus Christ to be saved. Afterward, I found myself anticipating His coming more hopefully and more fervently--a hope and fervency that continues with me.

To be frank, I don't know what to believe. There's so much "yacketty-smacketty" about pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib...pre-mid-post trib...that I get annoyed at all the squabbling. But, here's where I land: God is good, and all He does is good, so the way His Son returns, as He has promised He will, and gathers His people to Himself, will be good. I'm curious and I would like to understand what God plans, but until that day, I don't really need to understand it. I can trust God that what He does will be good.

October 1, 2014

Great perspective. I believe, much like the Jews sought Jesus to deliver them from their Roman oppressors, we seek a Jesus who will "put the smack down."

To compare the "Left Behind Series" to Lewis or Milton . . . . well, there's really no comparison.

The real problem with these fantasized stories is that it takes all book of prophecy out of the "how do I apply this now" into some sort of guess work of fortunetelling.

Jeremy Doan
October 1, 2014

I would take this article more seriously if it took Rapture theology, and the greater encompassing theology of dispensationalism, seriously. However, it is quite dismissive of each of those, and doesn't fully engage with the Scriptural support for each of them. You can't get more dismissive than treating it purely in terms of psychology.

Shiao Chong
October 1, 2014

This article is not focused on the correctness of rapture theology itself. I had already dealt with this elsewhere - which was linked in the post - but here it is again: http://3dchristianity.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/the-rapture-a-mistaken-belief/
To rehash my arguments from there would require a much longer article than the kind that is offered on this site.
In this article I was merely looking at the question of why is the rapture so popular.
I am sorry if my article came across as dismissive. As I wrote in the article, I have already dealt with the theology elsewhere, and merely wanted to explore on its popularity.

Shiao Chong
October 1, 2014

jkyoga wrote:
"The real problem with these fantasized stories is that it takes all book of prophecy out of the "how do I apply this now" into some sort of guess work of fortunetelling."

I agree. Contemporary everyday applications of the book of Revelation, for instance, are all overlooked for future crystal ball gazing of the impending rapture.

October 1, 2014

Like Chris Hunt, I have read the series. And I too longed more and more to be with Jesus after reading Glorious Appearing.
I find it interesting that this writer thinks that those who believe in the premises of rapture theology are enjoying vengeance and vindication.
Actually, the very fact that the Rapture could be imminent compels me to make sure that I am working out my faith in fear and trembling, and spreading the Gospel whenever and wherever I can: if necessary with words. I do not want anyone to be left behind. (I do believe in election, but since the Lord did not give us the list, we should be taking the Gospel everywhere and to everyone.)
As for the blood and gore, that will be nothing compared with hell.
To address the point of this distracting from everyday applications: the books spurred me on. I did not spend my time looking into crystal balls. I searched the Scripture even more. I felt more compelled to teach children esp about the Gospel. My friends who are pretrib had the same reaction.

Jeremy Doan
October 2, 2014

Thank you for the response. I appreciate that you lay out your disagreements with Rapture theology in that post. However, I still stand by my original complaint. We could take any theological system and reduce it to its psychological appeal, but I don't see a whole lot of value in that. True, many people are going to latch on to some tradition for a whole host of reasons that are not biblical, but that says nothing about the validity of the tradition. Without any other context, your article implies that most of those who believe in the Rapture and doing so merely for selfish, vindictive reasons, and I find that treatment to be unjust.

October 3, 2014

It's hard to reconcile the excerpts you provide with a reading confined just to Revelation itself. Anyone who takes Revelation as a blueprint of prognostication of real events also completely misunderstand the depth of Old Testament imagery and prophecy that John used in writing Revelation.

On the other hand, sensationalizing Revelation as a gory adventure story sure sells books and puts bodies in movie theater seats.


P.S. Personally, I'm boycotting Left Behind due to their <a href="http://wp.me/p2EmLc-2mi ">doctrinal bias against puppy dogs</a>. Shameful. Must have been filmed by a bunch of cat lovers.

Shiao Chong
October 7, 2014

Hi Jeremy,
Thanks for the pushback. Sorry for delayed reply. Somehow, it did not notify me of follow up comments.

I see your point. Although I would nuance it or disagree a little.

SOME reduction of theology to its psychological appeal is unjust and without value. BUT if it can be demonstrated that the theology INHERENTLY appeals to certain psychological sentiments, then, in my mind, there's value to that.

This can be either positive or negative. A positive example might be that there is inherent in Jesus' theology and teaching that appeals to people's desire for love, acceptance and belonging. A negative example, is like my post above on rapture theology. I am trying to suggest that there is something inherent in rapture theology that appeals to our dark side.

If believing in something consistently brings out darker psychological desires in me, and not my more noble psychological dispositions, is that not worthwhile knowing and is that not troubling?


Shiao Chong
October 7, 2014

Hi Sherry,
Thanks for your comment. And I am glad that the rapture doctrine makes you do good in evangelism. Good for you and God be praised.
In my defense, though, I have to say that I have met, and read about, many other rapture-ready Christians who are less positive than you. There are rapture Christians who welcome nuclear annihilation or world war 3, for instance, as it will hasten the rapture. They don't care about being good stewards of the environment because they will be raptured from the earth anyways. They don't care about social reforms for the common good because of the rapture as all social good will be destroyed during the tribulation.
Those are the kind of rapture believing Christians that I personally have problems with.

Ciera Samoa
October 8, 2014

Jesus said he would come 'as a thief in the night'.In no way shape or form does He ever imply He will leave behind destruction in the wake of His coming.

Ron Kuipers
October 8, 2014

Rapture theology is a distortion of Christian Faith with little to no Biblical basis. Even if, as some have suggested in this thread, it motivates some Christians to more fervent evangelism as opposed to schadenfreude over the misery of lost souls, it does so from a basis of fear and a celebration of the destruction of God's good creation. Our faith should be rooted in joy and not fear, and anyone who finds the events described in these book as occasions for joy is doing precisely what Shiao wonders about: taking delight in the suffering and misery of lost souls. We are as far from the Easter story and the sermon on the mount here as it is possible to get. To those who see anything virtuous in rapture theology I recommend the Lutheran Theologian Barbara R. Rossing's "The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation" (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2004).

July 26, 2016

In Reply to Chris Hunt (comment #26628)
If you are fed up with Rapture Theology and the variations on Millennialism, I suggest looking up Preterism.
I personally identify as a Partial Preterist, which means that I believe that 99% of Scriptures have been fulfilled and that the only thing left is for Christ's Second Coming. Jesus tells in as many words that we CANNOT know when the End Times will happen, so there is no point in trying to predict when it will happen.
It will happen when it happens, and only after the Church's Mission to spread the Gospel to all corners of the Earth has been fulfilled.

Richard Euson
July 26, 2016

One problem with the entire "Rapture" model is that it embraces a "life boat" or "escape pod" view of salvation: Jesus comes back to get us out of the mess the world is in and "take us to heaven." However, As George Ladd pointed out so many years ago, the key word Paul uses when he says we will "meet" the Lord is a word that was commonly used to describe people going out to meet the emperor when he arrived for a state visit. The people of a city would go out to "meet" the emperor and then escort him back into the city; they wouldn't go with the emperor back to Rome! So the whole picture of the Rapture as commonly described is backwards. Jesus "comes" and we "meet" him to accompany him on the last leg of his journey to... earth! That is where he will reign, on a rescued and redeemed earth, and that is where we will reign with him.

July 26, 2016

I am not a dispensationalist nor a rapture (nor a Left Behind) fan, but I find this article puzzling. Jesus certainly called us to love our enemies, and Paul seemed to think that the good for evil response was key as well. Yet the Bible is replete with calls for vengeance, justice, retribution and vindication. In fact a large part of the good news is that God will vindicate us. Paul says this in the same passage I mentioned, "Vengeance is mine I will repay says the Lord." I think people liked the books because people like stories, fantasy and wonder constantly "what's next." Left Behind scratched that itch.

July 26, 2016

I live in the South where there is a big "Rap" culture. My favorite is a bumper sticker that says "warning in case of rapture this car will be unoccupied". Not only is this a smug statement by the driver regarding his/her own destination but it also implies you will be left behind when the light turns green honking your horn.

July 26, 2016

The book of Revelation is not the only place that the Rapture is spoken of in the Bible. Christ tells us to watch for His return and etc. 1 This. 4 describes it in some detail. It is something that should comfort us to know it will happen according to God in His Word.

David Boarman
July 26, 2016

I don't have any ulterior motives for believing in a Rapture. When the Rapture occurs is much less important than 'why the Rapture occurs.' God works in ways that we often don't understand and when an event is understood to be coming, we often embellish with our own creativity. I don't think that is entirely wrong as long as we add that caveat to our 'dispensation'.

I don't 'want' the Rapture so I will feel vindicated. I want the Rapture so I can be with my Lord and Savior. My heart aches for those who will be left behind. Deliverance has already been declared. The Tribulation (not the daily grind) has already been passed over for the saved in Christ. So many things in the Bible point to future events ...as Paul (I think) says, the old are shadows of things to come.

I won't argue Rapture Theology; but what hope would we have if we knew that we must endure The Tribulation, or worse, the Great Tribulation? Knowing now that we are already being persecuted yet we remain steadfast, what purpose would it serve for the Church to endure that? He has already laid out the plan for His glory in the 144,000 Jews that witness for Him, the 2 witnesses (I believe to be Moses and Elijah), the angels flying to and fro declaring Christ as King. The Rapture signals the end of the Church age when Christ's bride spends Daniel's 70th week feasting with the Groom. Regardless, even if I am wrong, I know that I endure all things through Christ. If I am wrong and there is no Rapture, then I spend 7 more years witnessing. So be it.

July 26, 2016

You may be on to something here with your comment: "The Left Behind novels leaves me wondering if some Christians do not secretly delight in the unbelievers’ suffering."

In a "us" vs. "them" societal mindset, it would seem logical that some do indeed think this way. We won. We told you. Ha ha. Now you pay the price.

Has there ever been a poll taken which seeks to find out whether or not a correlation between those who believe in the Rapture and those who vote Republican exists? If so, I would be interested in the results.

Jaon E. Royle. Author of "The Rapture: Misunderstood."

Bob Chester
July 26, 2016

This commentary does not speak for the majority of Christians I know. I'm not sure where these "Christians" that delight in the suffering of the unbeliever's are. The Christians/believers that I know carry a burden to see those that do not have a relationship with Christ, have one. My heart goes out to those who are trying to learn the truth and may ask questions. In the last days, when the church is taken out and the Holy Spirit is no longer "restraining" the evil in the world, the suffering (according to Revelation) will be hard to understand. Finally, those who mock GOD and never accept Jesus (Yeshua) will suffer eternally in Hell. That will be far worse than any Hollywood producer could put on film. If someone "mocks" me for my beliefs they are really mocking GOD. I don't take it personally, I try and understand. They are deceived. I have no joy in seeing those suffer even when they were told that this would happen. Like Jesus, we should try lovingly and patiently talk to them about GOD's truth and his word.

Michael Auell
July 26, 2016

I believe in a pre-tribulation rapture. I have studied this issue and every side of it for over40 years. I believe that the pre-tribulation rapture is the only view that reconciles what the Bible says in the various passages. Every other view falls terribly short in one way or, more usually, several ways.
I resent the fact that you are ascribing emotions to us that we ourselves do not have! I have no need for vindication, I certainly don't want anyone to be damned or injured in any way. I must only be faithful to what the Bible teaches. It can easily be proven and has been proven that the rapture was taught in the early church. The doctrine was lost after the Roman Catholic church and its various errors took over and an outward form of Christianity was married to idolatry. When Constantine declared that Christianity was the law of the land, millions of pagans were suddenly "Christians" and they just changed the names of the idols to saints. Then with the errors of Augustine in regard to prophecy the whole matter was lost.
I always see that those who do not believe in a rapture are ascribing emotions to us or motives to us that we ourselves do not have. Those who do not believe in the pre-tribulational rapture often say that it is of Satan and that we will be deceived if we enter the tribulation having believed a lie. I assure you that that will not happen, even if you are correct about a post-tribulational rapture. Surely we would be disappointed but all of us who have a true faith in Jesus Christ would simply pray about it and continue to follow Him as always. I know people who believe in a pre-trib rapture but would rather go through the tribulation so that they could witness it and witness to people. They also would like to die for Christ.
I want to ask you, how do you account for the fact that we are to be watching for His coming which will happen suddenly and without warning? If it is the same day as the Second Coming, we will know exactly when it is coming! How do you account for the loss of the doctrine of imminency? Also, Who will populate the millenium? Why did God tell us that the church will not experience the wrath of God if we will go through this period that is called Jacob's trouble and is meant to bring the Jews to faith in Christ?
Those of you who believe in preterism are the farthest from understanding the scriptures in my opinion. You don't believe the prophecies as they are stated and you spiritualize them to mean something substantially different. Doing this you can change any doctrine in the Bible and many do. Pray fervently to God for answers. We should always operate in love to one another, even when we have major disagreements.

Thanks for your time

David Boarman
July 27, 2016

Well said.

Perry Lassiter
July 30, 2016

The unstated assumption in most of our English writings on eschatology is our first-world setting. Example: we asssume we will escape the tribulaation. OK if you're American or current European, but what about those Middle-East Christians being tortured, raped, and killed for not being Muslim. What about Chinese Christians who have grown during waves of persecution? Read the Insanity of God or see the picture when it comes out. How would Revelation read to you if you were in a third world country experiencing trials at least equal to the great tribulation.

Suggest those who espouse millenialism of any stripe read other non-biblical apocalypses, Esdras, for example. First century readers came to John's Apocalypse with a whole diffent mindset than we have. The Calvinists are right in one point: the sovereignty of God. Our finite minds cannot grasp the mysteries of the Infinite, even though we believe His words are incarnate in Scripture. We grasp, but Lord help our inability to grasp!

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